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2023 Cannondale Topstone Carbon Rival AXS review

Go-anywhere gravel bike with on-road manners

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0
GBP £4,850.00 RRP
Pack shot of the Cannondale Topstone Carbon Rival AXS road/gravel bike

Our review

Adventures await on this great blend of versatility and fun
Pros: Fun, inspiring handling; comfort via Cannondale's Kingpin suspension; integrated lights for road riding or commuting
Cons: Integrated lights aren’t to everyone’s taste or powerful enough for off-road riding
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The Cannondale Topstone is a mainstay of the gravel category and this latest update to the Topstone Carbon, introduced in April, offers a blend of versatility and fun, plus the addition of Cannondale’s SmartSense technology.

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Cannondale’s original Topstone Carbon brought the innovative Kingpin suspension rear end, inspired by the brand’s hardtail Scalpel mountain bike, with a single pivot at the point where the seatstays and seat tube meet.

Similar to a thru-axle in appearance, the design runs on bearings, with the carbon fibre in both the stays and seat tube designed to allow controlled flex that promises 30mm of travel at the saddle.

This new Topstone has the same technology, but Cannondale says it has refined the frame construction, reducing frame weight by 100g to a kilo.

It’s also worked hard to ensure that the ride feel is the same across all sizes, so the ‘leaf spring’-like design of the seat tube is proportional to frame size, and tyre clearance has been increased by 5mm, to 40mm with 700c wheels.

Cannondale Topstone Carbon Rival AXS geometry

Cannondale has also revised the geometry on the new Topstone Carbon, with an increased bottom bracket height and reduced standover.

This makes the Topstone ready for larger tyres without a negative effect on ride position, and a lower standover helps manoeuvrability when the going gets technical.

The ride position is a little sportier with the stack a full centimetre lower (size L), though reach is a little shorter (read our guide to stack and reach for more).

Effective seat angle (degrees)
Actual seat angle (degrees)71.471.671.871.972.1
Head angle (degrees)7071.
Chainstay (mm)420420420420420
Seat tube (mm)410458505553590
Top tube - hor (mm)533544557572587
Top tube - actual (mm)503516532550567
Head tube (mm)105123150177205
Fork offset (mm)5555555555
Trail (mm)6962626262
Bottom bracket drop (mm)7469676764
Bottom bracket height (mm)278283285285288
Wheelbase (mm)1,0101,0131,0291,0441,061
Standover (mm)704745785823857
Stack (mm)534551574600624
Reach (mm)371377383390397

Off-road capability

The geometry helps with off-road riding.
Russell Burton / Our Media

All of the new Topstone Carbon’s geometry changes amount to a bike that feels more at home on technical terrain, with an increase in the trail figure slowing the steering a little.

I’m hugely impressed by the smooth comfort of the back end, which matches the front end’s controlled and stable steering responses, and it inspires confidence when the going gets technical.

On tarmac, the Topstone feels like a cruising, endurance road bike, making it a superb companion on the roads between trails.

Indeed, while the Topstone Carbon may have moved more off-road than ever, with its wider tyre clearance and various mounts (on the top tube and fork), it’s also a very capable road machine when needed.

2x gearing

The choice of a 2x SRAM Rival AXS drivetrain over the gravel-specific Rival XPLR 1x drivetrain seems a little unconventional for gravel, but more conventional for riding on the road.

Ultimately, whether you prefer a 1x or 2x drivetrain for gravel riding depends on your preferences as a rider – where and how you ride – and what you want from your gravel bike setup.

As far as the Topstone Carbon Rival AXS is concerned, the 43/30t crankset and 10-36t cassette provide the close ratios traditional roadies approve of, plus a suitable range for typical off-road climbs.

The rear derailleur, with its sprung clutch, is a bonus on rougher stuff because it stops excessive chain bounce.

The powerful Rival hydraulic disc brakes, with 160mm rotors front and rear, have bags of feel, which adds to the handling that makes this bike lots of fun, whether on singletrack trails, wide-open dirt roads or tarmac.

Kingpin suspension adds 30mm of travel.
Russell Burton / Our Media

Chunky wheels and tyres

The DT Swiss G540 wheels combine DT’s Spline hubs with a wide, tubeless-ready rim that has a broad 24mm internal rim width.

Owing to component availability, our bike is shod with Vittoria’s Terreno Dry tanwall tyres in a 38c width, instead of the 44c Vittoria Mezcal III tyres listed on the spec sheet.

The substitution really worked for me; in one of the driest, hottest summers in British history, when testing primarily took place, the low-profile knobbled tread of the Terrenos was superb on dusty trails.

They offer impeccable levels of bite in the corners, while the textured central tread makes them fast-rolling on the road and hard-packed dirt, too.

The Mezcal is described as a ‘versatile all-rounder’ for dry conditions and mixed terrain. Tyre choice is key when it comes to gravel bikes, so check what your bike will come with.

Swapping in a set of the best gravel tyres for your riding is also one of the smartest (and easiest) upgrades you can make to your gravel bike.

Elsewhere, the build combines Cannondale alloy components in the form of its 1 alloy stem and 2 ShortDrop alloy bar, which has a subtle flare to work well both on and off-road.

Once again, component shortages also meant a few more deviations from Cannondale’s official specification, so our test bike came with a 3 alloy post and Fizik’s Aliante saddle, which both did a fine job yet added a few grams.

Integrated lights

The integrated lights are a convenient solution, but not to all tastes.
Russell Burton / Our Media

Perhaps a controversial choice for the new Topstone is the inclusion of the integrated SmartSense lights first seen on the Synapse.

The heart of the SmartSense system is a down-tube mounted power pack with a claimed five-hour run time in standard mode.

As we’ve previously covered in our Cannondale Synapse review, integrated lights aren’t to everyone’s taste or requirements, but they do mean you always have lights available when required, and only one battery to charge.

The battery for the integrated lights is on the down tube.
Russell Burton / Our Media

The 350-lumen front light has enough power to light unlit back roads, with careful riding.

Meanwhile, the back light’s broad U-shaped lens is plenty bright enough for other road users to see you from a distance.

The under-stem front light means a bar bag will block the light, however.

If you want enough illumination for off-road night riding, you’ll need to look at a set of more powerful, dedicated bike lights (or a set of mountain bike lights if you want to really turn night into day).

Cannondale Topstone Carbon Rival AXS bottom line

This is a truly modern gravel bike, but it also has versatility in its DNA.

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The SmartSense lights are a commuter’s friend and the Kingpin suspension unleashes the bike in the rough, while the gearing choice and handling will help you keep up with roadie mates.

Product Specifications


Price br_price, 5, 3, Price, GBP £4850.00
Weight br_weight, 5, 6, Weight, 10.19kg (L), Array, kg
Brand br_brand, 5, 10, Brand, Cannondale


Available sizes br_availableSizes, 11, 0, Available sizes, XS, S, M, L, XL
Bottom bracket br_bottomBracket, 11, 0, Bottom bracket, SRAM DUB BSA
Brakes br_brakes, 11, 0, Brakes, SRAM Rival, 160mm Paceline rotors
Cassette br_cassette, 11, 0, Cassette, SRAM XG-1250 10-36t 12-speed
Cranks br_cranks, 11, 0, Cranks, SRAM Rival AXS DUB Wide with 43/30t chainrings
Fork br_fork, 11, 0, Fork, Full carbon
Frame br_frame, 11, 0, Frame, Carbon, Kingpin suspension system
Front derailleur br_frontDerailleur, 11, 0, Front derailleur, SRAM Rival eTap
Handlebar br_handlebar, 11, 0, Handlebar, Cannondale 2 ShortDrop alloy
Rear derailleur br_rearDerailleur, 11, 0, Rear derailleur, SRAM Rival eTap
Saddle br_saddle, 11, 0, Saddle, Fizik Terra Argo X5
Seatpost br_seatpost, 11, 0, Seatpost, Cannondale SAVE Carbon SmartSense
Shifter br_shifter, 11, 0, Shifter, SRAM Rival eTap
Stem br_stem, 11, 0, Stem, Cannondale 1 alloy
Tyres br_tyres, 11, 0, Tyres, Vittoria Mezcall III 44c
Wheels br_wheels, 11, 0, Wheels, DT Swiss G540